Halina Rudowski is on the run. When the Polish ghetto where she lives is evacuated, she narrowly escapes, but her mother is not as lucky. Along with her friend Batya, Halina makes her way to a secret encampment in the woods where Jews survive by living underground. As the group struggles for food, handles infighting, and attempts to protect themselves from the advancing Germans, Halina must face the reality of life without her mother.
Based on historical events, this gripping tale sheds light on a little-known aspect of the Holocaust: the underground forest encampments that saved several thousand Jews from the Nazis. In telling the story of one girl's survival, Escaping into the Night marks the arrival of a remarkable new voice in fiction.
Friedman mines a little-known aspect of the WWII resistance movement for this novel, her first for young people, about Jewish refugees who escaped deportation by hiding in the wilderness of western Belorussia. Halina Rudowski, 13, fled Berlin for her mother's Polish village, only to be herded into a ghetto. Now she suspects her mother has been killed, and Halina must escape again this time with her friend Batya. A tunnel beneath the synagogue takes them beyond the ghetto walls, where they travel at night with three brothers until reaching an encampment of several hundred Jews living in ziemlankas underground caves. Strangers become instant bunkmates, and eating means stealing food from the peasants around them. Halina struggles with the morality of this, and ponders Batya's zealous devotion to a God who seems to have deserted them. The girls volunteer to go on an expedition to find food, only to be brutally raped by a Nazi soldier, rocking even Batya's faith-filled resolve. Friedman realistically captures the terror of the situation, but, refreshingly, also depicts Halina experiencing her first kiss from a kind guard who falls for her lovely singing voice. When the guard tells her he is 22, Halina realizes he is too old, but she savors the kiss anyway, knowing it may be all the romance she will ever get. "We didn't have a few years. We weren't even sure how many days we had." Ages 10-14.